July 31, 2020
By Malinda Seneviratne
Some years ago, the then Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon appointed ‘a panel of experts’ to advise him on Sri Lanka’s three-decades long battle to rid the island of terrorism. The panel was led by a man called Marzuki Darusman, former Attorney General of Indonesia. The others in the panel were Steve R Ratner, a professor of law and Yasmin Sooka, a South African high court judge.
The report they produced was littered with inaccuracies and contained conclusions drawn from claims made by absolutely unreliable sources with no substantiation whatsoever. The then Government refused to recognize the panel and in hindsight this may have been a mistake. The panel, lacking any information other than that furnished by politically and ethically tainted individuals and groups, went along with their narrative. It does not absolve them of unprofessionalism though.
Enough time has passed for the authors to reflect on the veracity. Darusman and Ratner have been largely quiet except for lending their signature to various petitions related to Sri Lanka. Sooka, however, does not seem to have the intellect, courage and integrity to let go. She is, as far as we can tell, a paid employee of the European Union (Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa), but doubles up as the Executive Director of the International Truth and Justice Project Sri Lanka (ITJPSL).
Some people lie, some others make honest mistakes. The latter, if decent, apologize or go silent. The former can be embarrassed into silence but can also try to face-save. Typically, they get more egg on their respective faces. Sooka is a good example.
The IRJPSL typically gets agitated whenever anyone connected with the defeat of terrorism is in the news (if they get elected, like President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, if they get diplomatic postings or even promotions). Immediately there’s a flurry of activity. Sooka’s outfit issues a missive which in turn is picked up and reported by various dubious websites fronting for pro-LTTE groups or run by NGOs with equally dubious agenda and track records. Typically, also, we get to see petitions regarding such claims being issued by the same or similar outfits signed by largely the same individuals and representatives of the same organizations.
It’s regurgitation to the point of absolute ridiculousness. Documents used to back claims include missives from the US Embassy in Colombo (notorious for trying to facilitate the escape of the LTTE’s military leadership among other undiplomatic operations) and statements (yes, them!) Issued by various NGOs and media outfits. If you check sources, they all go back to one or more LTTE operatives. It’s good to check footnotes and bibliographies. It’s good to do background checks on track record, political position, ideological predilection and outcome preferences of ‘the sources’ and of course their sources. Tells a story.
It is the same in the latest Sooka-operation where she targets Suresh Sallay, recently promoted to the rank of Major General. The whine is about alleged mistreatment of a Tamil doctor, Thurairajah Varatharajah.
Varatharajah was one of five doctors serving in LTTE-controlled areas and who surrendered to the security forces during those last days of ‘the civil war.’ Varatharajah claims that essential surgery to an injured arm was delayed by Sallay. He claims he was threatened. Sooka claims he was subjected to prolonged detention without trial, psychological torture and deprivation of medical treatment.’
Varatharajah was considered ‘one of the few credible reporters’ as far as UNICEF, Red Cross and Oxfam were concerned with respect to estimating supplied required in LTTE controlled areas. The LTTE pilfered supplies. This is known. Varatharajah’s purpose then is obvious. The ‘reliable’ doctor also dished out numbers regarding civilians in LTTE-controlled areas. He never dared say they were being held hostage - ‘the (notorious) human shield’ of the terrorists. In such circumstances no one can fault anyone for lying and deceiving, but whatever Varatharajah said then was taken as fact; small wonder that the believers continue to believe him. Naiveté is not easily cured, after all, and those who pretend to sleep are hard to be persuaded out
Sooka doesn’t wonder why the other four doctors don’t corroborate Varatharajah’s testimony, not then, not now and not in the more than 10 years since the defeat of the LTTE, not even during the yahapalana years when the then government was hell bent on lynching one and all associated with military operations ‘during the last days’. These four doctors left Sri Lanka on numerous occasions. Not once have they claimed they were under duress when they spoke at the news conference following their surrender. They could have looked for greener pastures, just like Varatharajah. They did not. Such things do not bother Sooka. Neither is she bothered by the fact that it is this doctor who has become the poster boy of various outfits directly or indirectly linked to the LTTE.
Varatharajah surrendered on March 23, 2009. Surgery was performed the very next day and thereafter, upon his request, he was admitted to a paying ward of the National Hospital. Neither he nor any of the other doctors claimed to have been subjected to psychological torture although they had ample opportunity to do so at the time.
Sooka claims ‘Sallay was summoned to appear in court in 2016 in connection with the investigation into the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga in January 2009.’ Sallay was in Paris as the First Secretary of Sri Lanka’s diplomatic mission from September 2006 to March 2009. He was never summoned to appear in court over this issue. Sooka claims that one Kandegedara Piyawansa was on Sallay’s personal staff. Sallay never had an aide by that name.
Sooka’s outfit in an infographic on the military personnel close to the President mentions Sallay, but hilariously uses a photograph of Brigadier Ravindra Dias who was attached to the Engineering Regiment. In her rant against Sallay the very same photo has been used. Dias has since taken legal action against Sooka and her truth (sic) and justice (sic) project. Project. Yes. They got that word right.
Sallay has since taken Sooka to court. Sooka wails ‘I’m being threatened,’ and her choir boys and girls pick up the cry ‘Sooka’s being threatened.’ Legal action on account of defamation is a threat? What then of tall stories vilifying an individual that’s tossed around? That’s ok in Sooka’s book? For the record, of the hundred-odd individuals who have signed a petition supporting Sooka’s threat-claim only a handful have even a cursory knowledge of Sri Lanka. My hunch is that if anyone knows anything it’s from the tainted Darusman report. Prejudiced. That’s the word.
So why all this fuss, one might ask. Well, the doctors were key to the narrative preferred by certain sections of the international community and of course the pro-LTTE groups. The doctors effectively killed that narrative. The doctors had to be rehabilitated, then. Varatharajah’s integrity was anyway compromised by the fact that he was certainly no ‘independent’ information-giver while in the LTTE-controlled area. Weak, unreliable and compromised in multiple ways though he was Varatharajah seems to have been good enough Sooka’s low benchmarks when it comes to truth and justice.
Sallay became a target only after he was promoted. If Sooka had a comprehensive dossier (which she ought to have with her after more than a decade), why was Sallay missing in it? Why was nothing mentioned for 11 years? Why didn’t Varatharajah remember Sallay when he ‘spilled the beans’ in all these years?
As for Sooka, her career and stature are at stake. She has to keep the lie alive because that’s bread and butter. She may know that she embarrasses herself but probably has no choice. Poor lady. It starts when you retire reason. It gets worse when you want to cover up. Obviously, when intelligence and integrity happen to be one’s weakest suits, it gets pretty ugly.
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